Friday Review: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People HelpThe Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not a huge Amanda Palmer fan. I really didn’t know a lot about her until she married Neil Gaiman (who is one of my favorite authors). One of my daughters is a fan. I started reading her online posts, and following her on Twitter, and found her to be not only quirky and interesting, but also genuine and interested. She wants you to engage with her. It’s how she’s made her entire career since the Dresden Dolls broke from the label the really didn’t “get it.” So, I wanted to read this book, to try and get an idea who this person was.

I can’t recommend this book enough. No, it’s not a step-by-step plan to help you learn to ask without the fear of hearing no. It’s a memoir. It’s a life story. It’s honest and direct and it pulls very few punches. Palmer grew up in Massachusetts in a, if not wealthy, at least reasonably comfortable family. Yes, she’s had some advantages, but she never took advantage. She left college to pursue her dreams- art and music. She spent countless hours dressed as a bride, busking for the dollars people would drop in her box in return for a flower from her bouquet. But it wasn’t the “begging” that was important. Nor was it the realization that she could make more money as the Eight Foot Bride than at her job at the ice cream shop. It was here that she first began to understand that what most people wanted was just the one, tiny moment of connection. The moment when the Bride, up to then still and disconnected, would bend down to present a flower with a flourish and a moment of eye contact. That bit of interaction would become the cornerstone of her whole career.

She tells her story in small scenes, vignettes that jump around in time a bit. Through it all she is honest and doesn’t gloss over the less than pretty parts. Because even for her, the woman who created the most successful Kickstarter campaign of an musician, the woman who did whole tours sleeping on the couches of fans who she didn’t know other than email or Twitter, the woman who could announce a “ninja gig” in a park just hours before it happened and have hundreds or even thousands of people show up for music, conversation, and communing, there were many moments of doubt and fear. Moments when she worried about how she was going to ask for one more thing from people who had already given so much. And it is compelling reading.

As I said, this is not a self-help book, but it did teach me a lot. It made me rethink the way I look at Art and what qualifies for that label. You don’t have to know who Amanda Palmer is, and you don’t have to be a fan of hers or appreciate her sometimes unusual music, to understand what she is saying here. But I think if you read The Art of Asking, you will become a fan of Amanda Palmer, the person.

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